Imagine the sinking feeling of being on a business trip without the contact names and phone numbers of the people you were supposed to meet.
Sam Fahmy, a Providence entrepreneur, experienced that distress on a trip to Chicago some 18 months ago. He couldn't find his address book before he had to catch his plane from Rhode Island.
In Chicago, a phone and some calls to 411 got him out of that jam. But that predicament sparked a better a solution: allow people to store their personal information -- schedules, addresses and phone numbers -- on the Internet.
That was the genesis of Bungo.com, a new site Fahmy and a small crew of about seven employees launched in October.
The site, which is free, can be used to keep track of personal information, such as calendars, Internet bookmarks, personal notes, and, of course, addresses and phone numbers. And it lets you access your information anywhere there is a Web browser.
Bungo is one of many new sites that specialize in storing personal information on the Web. But Bungo takes a slightly different approach by adding the ability to share your information with other Bungo users.
For example, you can assemble a list of your favorite bookmarks, and "publish" them in a library. Then others can then add them to their own bookmark lists.
To encourage this kind of sharing, Bungo gives its users rewards or credits if someone uses their list of bookmarks. Once you get 1,000 credits, you get a gift certificate for a free CD.
Fahmy says he hopes Bungo.com will become a major entry point, or "portal" site for Internet users. That could pump up advertising revenues.
Fahmy, 37, has always had his sights set high. He has held executive positions at Proctor and Gamble, Sunbeam, and most recently, at Japonica Partners, a Providence-based investment firm. He is a native of Egypt, speaks three languages, and grew up in several countries because of his father's mobile profession: international economist. He moved permanently to the United States in 1986.
Fahmy's passion has been Internet businesses, and two years ago, he started a Web cafe on Providence's East Side, Channels Internet.
Since then, it appears that Channels customers are more attracted to the coffee and pastries than they are to the keyboards and the Web. The store has scaled back somewhat the Internet part of the business.
Fahmy began pursuing his idea for Bungo last year. Looking for a collaborator, he turned to Matthew Forsyth, 23, a Boston University student studying computer science and philosophy.
Once Forsyth, a Providence native, starting working on the project, he was hooked. He decided to leave school in February, just a few months shy of graduating.
Forsyth is an intensely driven programmer. One recent night was typical: he worked on some software to add new features until 4 a.m., when his concentration finally gave in to exhaustion. He crashed on an air mattress in a back room of the Internet cafe. The mattress was a recent birthday gift given by his father. Before that luxury, Forsyth said he simply slept on the floor using a chair support as a pillow.
Where did the name "Bungo" come from?
Fahmy said it popped into his head at a 2 a.m. brainstorming session. He wanted it to be short, memorable, and have a "positive feeling" to it. Bungo seemed to fit those requirements, and best of all, bungo.com was available.
Bungo is really a word. According to Webster's dictionary, it means a kind of canoe used in Central and South America; and also, a kind of boat used in the southern United States.
Fahmy said that around the office, the word has morphed into both a noun and a verb. As in, "I'll add that to my Bungo." Or, "I'll be busy for a few minutes while I bungo."
The sharing capabilities of Bungo are powerful. For example, you can share an address entry from your contact list with another Bungo user. If you update that address later, the changes you make are automatically reflected in the address book of the person with whom you shared the address.
A teacher could use Bungo to share with students lists of bookmarks, class notes and a schedule of quizzes. Students could carry on group chats among each other.
That can be done with one of the most interesting features, called "Live Mail," which is a cross between E-mail and instant messaging services. You can carry on chats with others who are on-line, but those conversations can continue, much like a back-and-forth E-mail discussion, when your correspondent is not on-line when you are. A big plus is that you don't need any extra software, such as a plug-in, to use Live Mail.
The site is in its early stages, and there are a number of bugs and annoyances that need to be fixed. The home page, for example, gives a lot of prominence to horoscopes, for some strange reason.
Beyond that, the bells and whistles are somewhat confusing. I found myself wishing I had a manual to figure out some features.
Bungo.com asks a lot of users, but it delivers a lot too.
In the end, Fahmy's biggest challenge may be not only teaching people how to bungo, but to convince them it's worth the effort to learn.